Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds, and the most honorable prayer and peace be upon the master of the first and the last, our master, Muhammad, the chosen, the trustworthy, and upon his pious and pure family, his faithful companions, and those who followed them in goodness until the Day of Judgment, may Allah Almighty be pleased with them all.
Allah, subhanahu wata’ala, ordered believers to show firmness when fighting the enemy, as he said in the Qur’an: “Believers, fight the unbelievers who are near you. Let them find firmness in you. Know that Allah is with those who are cautious” (Surah 9, ayah 123), and he said: “Allah loves those who fight in His Way lining up as if they were a stacked building” (Surah 61, ayah 4), and he said: “Therefore, when you meet the unbelievers smite their necks, then, when you have killed many of them, tie the bonds. Then, either free them by grace or ransom until war shall lay down its loads, in this way, it shall be. Had Allah willed, He would have been victorious over them; except that He might test you, the one by the means of others. As for those who are killed in the Way of Allah, He will not let their works to go astray” (Surah 47, ayah 4).
These are the Islamic ethics during the time of war only and these ethics were established to encounter enemies who, in most cases, did not have or practice the same ethics. Are we called, as some groups claim, to expand these values to include personal relations with non-Muslims within the society, or with other societies with whom we don’t have war? To answer this important question, we need to differentiate between relations with enemies during war and during peace. We need to understand the Prophet’s attitudes in these cases to follow him, as Allah says in the Qur’an: “In the Messenger of Allah you have a fine example for he who hopes for Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah abundantly” (Surah 33, ayah 21). Furthermore, it is an issue which relates to ethics and attitudes in Islam, so let us find out some aspects of that issue.
Ethics in Islam occupy a great space. Many Qur’anic verses and hadiths of the Prophet stress the importance of ethics and glorify the person who carries and practices these values in his personal and community relations. Prophet Muhammed peace be upon him focused this matter to the extent that he limits his mission to complement these ethical values, as he said: “I was sent to perfect good character” (al-Adab al-Mufrad, book 14, hadith 273). This perfect character was existent in the Prophet, in his speech, attitudes and thoughts even with non-believers, who were his public enemy. Once the people asked him to invoke a curse upon the polytheists, whereupon he said: “I have not been sent as the invoker of curses, but I have been sent as a mercy” (Sahih Muslim, 2599). This perfect attitude was existent not only in human to human relations, but extended to human to animal relation. Once, A’isha (the Prophet’s wife, and the daughter of Abu Bakr) said, “I was on a camel that was somewhat intractable and I began to beat it. The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, ‘You must be compassionate. Whenever there is compassion in something, it adorns it, and whenever it is removed from something it disgraces it” (al-Adab al-Mufrad, book 1, hadith 14). Thus we see that the Prophet held compassion over enacting violence, even to beasts, as a high value. The Prophet, peace be upon, him told us to perfect everything even when killing or slaughtering animals, as he said: “Verily Allah has prescribed Ihsan (kindness) for everything. So when you kill, you must make the killing in the best manner; when you slaughter, make your slaughter in the best manner. Let one of you sharpen his knife and give ease to his animal (in order to reduce his pain)” (Riyad al-Salihin, 639). When Muslims were at war with Quraish, the Prophet’s tribe, and many of them were his relatives, and when the Prophet and his army entered Mecca, his enemies came to the Ka’bah, they were holding onto its door and the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “What do you say? What do you think?” They said three times, “We say you are a kind brother and the son of our kind brother.” The Prophet said, “I say to you as Joseph said to his brothers: No blame upon you today. Allah will forgive you, for he is the most merciful of the merciful.” (Surah 12, ayah 92). In another narration, the Prophet said to them, “Go, you are free” (al-Sunan al-Kubra, 17714). When Muslims captured non-believers’ prisoners in the war of Badr, the Prophet peace be upon him released some of them for a ransom, and for some of those who did not have money he told them to teach some Muslim boys how to read and write for their freedom (Ibn Hisham biography of the Prophet).
Can we imagine the level of mercy which the Prophet has distributed? Those people were harming, torturing, and killing his followers! But he is the gifted mercy of Allah to mankind, may the peace and blessing of Allah be upon him. We need to distinguish the difference between these great attitudes and the attitudes which some extremist groups allege to be Islamic. Groups like ISIS, for instance, who created their own Caliphate without meeting the conditions for it and made war on others without Islamic justification, insist wrongly upon carrying out the first verses pertaining to times of war, when they created the wars themselves and reigned with brutality, even treating their own subjects with very little compassion. This level of violence and brutality toward others is not what the Qur’an and Sunna teach nor follow the example of our esteemed Prophet in how he treated not only mankind, but beasts as well.
Our reference should be the Qur’an and Sunna, and what we mean by Sunna is the Prophet’s sayings, deeds and attitudes, and recognition for sayings and deeds which he witnessed. Reading his biography will enrich our information and will grant us measurements to the deeds of those who cause harm to Islam and Muslims, as well as all mankind. This is only a small portion of the Prophet’s biography and some glimpses of his attitudes in war and peace. Let all the Muslims follow his steps and let us expand Islamic values among people to reflect a better image about Islam.